Foothills Regional Airport charts future

Better marketing will be one emphasis
Mar. 20, 2014 @ 07:06 PM

Leaders at the Foothills Regional Airport should work to market the airport better to the public and potential businesses – the airport’s main problem, participants at a long-term planning meeting said Thursday.

Representatives from local governments, businesses and community colleges met with airport leaders in Morganton to discuss the future of the airport, its challenges and its opportunities. The meeting was the first step in creating a master airport layout plan.

The main takeaway was that businesses and members of the public need to be more informed about the presence of the airport, its operations and what it brings to the region.

“I feel like there are a lot of people in the community that don’t understand the importance of the airport,” airport manager Brent Brinkley said. “We’re going to try and change that.”

Pat Turner of engineering firm Talbert, Bright and Ellington gave a quick presentation about the airport that showed its annual economic output is about $3.2 million, generating $38,000 in annual tax revenue. There are more than $5 million worth of aircraft based at the airport.

Foothills has also recently completed all of its planned projects, including eight hangars, and a new transportation improvement program has been created to serve as a preliminary calendar for projects for the next seven years.

Conversation touched on replacing the terminal building at the airport, which was built in 1967, and increasing signs on roadways near the airport.

Officials also commended the airport’s current management on the improved system of financial reporting and oversight, rectifying rampant problems that plagued the airport in recent years and led to federal criminal charges of embezzling and money laundering for the previous management.

Danny Gilbert, assistant city manager for Lenoir and financial officer for the Foothills Regional Airport Authority, told the group that the airport is now financially on track and its operations are self-sustaining.

Thursday’s meeting was just the first step, Brinkley said. Next, the airport and engineering firm will get compile the information gathered at the meeting and create a game plan moving forward.